F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 25, 2015)

25 06 2015

The ReturnI abide by many mantras, but one I use often in assessing and criticizing movies is, “Never judge a director by their debut film.”  In the case of Andrey Zvyagintsev, however, such would actually be acceptable.  His first feature, 2004’s “The Return,” shows a remarkable command of suspense and tone that results in a gripping experience.

To be clear, “The Return” is not my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” simply because I am grading Zvyagintsev on a curve.  Regardless of whether this were a director’s first or fifteenth film, I still would have been bowled over by its power.  But anyone who saw this on the festival circuit a decade ago should have easily been able to foresee Zvyagintsev’s Oscar nomination for “Leviathan” last year.

Unlike his film recognized by the Academy, however, “The Return” focuses smaller scale rather than on the state of the entire Russian nation.  Zvyagintsev primarily follows three characters over the course of the film: baby-faced Ivan, his older teen brother Andrei, and their estranged father Otets.  After a twelve year absence, the patriarch mysteriously returns home to command his old family, and he does so with an iron fist.

Tensions already run high between Ivan and Andrei, as shown by an opening scene where the eldest sibling allows a bully to heap masses of humiliation on his petrified brother.  Otets’ arrival simply lights the long fuse to the powder keg of familial tensions.  But Zvyagintsev refuses to let us see the full length, thus keeping us in stomach-clenched agony watching their male bonding trip slowly go south.  Animosity over his absence provides many a heated debate, as does Otets’ favoritism of Andrei and patronization towards Ivan.

The default reaction of the kids, in response to the feuding with their father, is to shut down entirely and offer nothing but a mopey, downcast frown.  Zvyagintsev never tries to psychoanalyze them in “The Return.”  He simply lets us see how each instance of frustration incrementally sets the wheels of chaos in motion.  From our distance, we can only watch in anger, helpless to stop what we know is coming.  Yet anyone paying attention will be hard-pressed to turn their eyes away…

Random Factoid #267

21 04 2010

This factoid is brought to you by Ross v Ross’ post “Which Movies Have You Not Been Able to Finish?”

If you hadn’t guessed by now, I will be revealing the movie(s) that I just couldn’t see through to the bitter end.  No matter how bad the movie, I virtually always finish it.  On just my fourth day of blogging I established that I had only walked out of two movies, “The Return” and “Bruno.”  I did not care to ever finish the former, but I actually rented the latter (from the library – so it was free!) and finished it out of curiosity.

But as for other movies, I only remember stopping a movie and never restarting it because I didn’t like it once.  That honor is reserved for “Ghost Rider,” starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.  I’ve seen worse movies, and I’m not quite sure what motivated me to stop.  I think it could be some sort of an objection to having an incarnation of the Devil be the protagonist.

Any movies that you just couldn’t see through to the end?

Random Factoid #4

1 08 2009

I have only walked out of a movie once.  The movie was “The Return,” a crummy 2006 horror film with Sarah Michelle Gellar.  It was my first time to go to the movies as a social occasion, and I couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to go see the infinitely better “Casino Royale” which was opening that day.  I now realize that for big gatherings, it’s best to see movies that you don’t actually want to see because you just sit in the front and talk, irking other moviegoers who then call the manager and get the loudest members of your group kicked out.  After a fair few of my friends had been not so politely escorted out of the theater, the remainder of us decided to leave.  I have absolutely no desire to watch what I missed, or even to go on Wikipedia and read what I missed.

I guess, technically speaking, I walked out of “Bruno” too.  There were about 20 minutes left in the movie, and I noticed that the picture was getting especially blurry.  I leaned over and I asked my friend if she noticed it, and she didn’t seem concerned about it.  Sure enough, about a minute later, the projector broke and the lights came on in the theater.  We decided to wait it out as they fixed it, but when the movie came back on, it resumed in the wrong spot.  The theater booed until they turned it off and tried to get us back to the right spot, but that just led to it breaking three more times about every two minutes.  After about the fifth break, we were among the last twenty people in a previously packed house, and we decided to just leave.  I would have stayed until the very raunchy end had it not been for the projector.